“I had been dating my husband for a while and had wondered when I would meet his family. It hadn’t exactly been a conflict between us, but I felt like it was a little weird that I hadn’t. They were local, within the greater NYC area. He and I come from very different backgrounds. His family is large, Catholic, and New Yorkers. His father’s parents emigrated from Spain in the 1930s. My mother’s family has been in the same area in Virginia for eleven generations. I’m a WASP. We operate differently, as do our families. One of the reasons I think my husband and I set a good foundation for our relationship is that we had both been married before. We had been separated almost a year respectively when we met. So we never had to explain ourselves to the other. Divorce is complicated, and not just for the people divorcing. Of course, it affects the children, if there are any. It also affects parents and brothers and sisters. Extended family have relationships with our spouses. That doesn’t get as much attention as it probably deserves. I cannot imagine how devastated I’d be to lose my sister-in-law, I adore her. Of course, she is a part of my family! It’s distressing on both sides. You want fealty and loyalty from your immediate family when you get divorced. Sometimes it’s very troubling, in an emotional sense, for your brothers and sisters. There are hurt feelings everywhere.
So my husband and I didn’t have to explain stuff like this to each other. We gave each other a lot of room for these complicated feelings. We didn’t judge each other about it. We minded our respective business. It worked really well for us. Most of the time. One Saturday, he and I woke up at my apartment. He asked, ‘Do you want to meet my family today?’
I was delighted to, and I asked who I would be meeting. He simply replied, ‘Everyone.’
Now I should mention I had already met his kids. We had great fun going to Central Park once in a while on Sundays, then getting a pizza. We would eat it on my pullout couch and watch cartoons on my TV. I thought of it as an urban picnic. I didn’t understand what meeting everyone meant, but figured I would find out. I didn’t want to badger him about it. Have I mentioned my husband isn’t a big talker? So we drive to the mysterious Westchester and pull into a park. He mentioned that his brother had a picnic every year, so that’s where we were going. Imagine a giant square of green. We were parked on the south of this square. Then we walked north, across a vast field of grass. It seemed the size of a football field. I could see, across the field, some picnic tables. Someone was barbecuing. There were a lot of people. As we are walking across the giant field, hand in hand, I begin to see heads turning. But instead of, perhaps giving a wave or something, these heads just kept staring. Literally everyone was staring at us. Um, are you kidding me?!
I asked my husband if he told anyone he was bringing me. I already knew the answer, but I was hoping against hope. He replied with a brief, ‘No.’
Everyone’s jaw was dropping. Apparently, the entire family was hoping that he would get back together with his ex-wife. It was like walking into my own public execution. That’s how fun it was. At least my husband’s parents were lovely to me. Some of the other relatives were polite. But you could tell how disappointed everyone was in my husband. Obviously, we all made it through this awkward ordeal. I am taking a smoke break at one point, when one of my husband’s nephews walks over. He was really young and holding a Frisbee. I put out my smoke and ask if he wants to play Frisbee. The kid just looks at me, then he threw the Frisbee in my general direction. I smile, and I’m about to run over to it, thinking that not all hope is lost with his family. Suddenly, this little kid calls out to me, ‘Fetch, dog!’
Um, WHAT?! I stop, turn around, and tell this kid that he can fetch it himself. Even the children hated me. Wonderful. It was an excruciating afternoon. But I did call that nephew ‘Fetch Dog’ for the next few years at family gatherings. So my husband didn’t handle it well. I alerted him to this, when I eventually recovered from the shock. The bottom line is this. He made a mistake. He did the best he could. Both things are true. We’ve been married a long time. I have a good relationship with his family and feel genuinely close to most of them now. Some things just need time.
His sons are grown men. We have a very nice relationship with his ex-wife and her husband. We threw a huge party together this year for one of his sons. I’m very happy that the most important relationships, those with his children, are sound. And I think he and his ex-wife worked beautifully together in raising them. I’m happy to know I can love a man in spite of that colossal faux pas he made introducing me to his family. Like I said: divorce is a mess. I’m glad we gave each other the room to mess up. Oh, and as a side note, that precocious nephew is now a professional Frisbee player!”